Snarling when we leave the house

Posted by Robin-Simpson
Mar 14, 2011
We have two Golden Retrievers (rescue dogs) who are now three and a half years old and have been with us for six months. They are generally very well behaved but they snarl and bark aggressively when we are about to leave the house (and bark a lot when we are not there, according to our neighbours).

They are both neutered males from the same litter.

We have tried all the Alpha Dog things – and this has helped noticeably in other aspects of their behaviour but has had no effect on this snarling when we leave. We don’t make a fuss of them when leaving or returning. We have tried pretending to leave or leaving for very short periods but they snarl each time we approach the front door no matter how carefully we try to disguise it. Sometimes they get it wrong and mistakenly snarl when we are not actually leaving but they never seem to miss an actual departure.

Leaving the radio on doesn’t seem to make any difference. We don’t like to leave toys for them to play with as they can get a bit protective of toys when left alone – this is the only time they seem to show any aggression to each other. Apart from the barking they don’t cause any damage when we are away or exhibit any other destructive behaviour.

I wonder whether part of the problem is a lack of routine. My partner works full time. I work from home but spend an average of around three days a week away from the house at meetings – sometimes for a few hours and sometimes all day. When I am away all day one of our neighbours walks the dogs for us in the afternoon. There is no standard pattern to my work so the days and times I am at home or away vary each week. When I am working at home I have an office at the end of the garden. Sometimes I let the dogs join me in the office and sometimes I leave them in the house or in the garden. If I leave them in the house and go to the office they snarl and bark as they do when I am leaving the house altogether.

What can we do to stop the dogs snarling when we leave and barking when we are away from home?

Many thanks for your help,

Posted by KOPCaroline
Mar 15, 2011
Hey Robin,

In my opinion, your dogs sound like they have a bit of seperation anxiety. They see you leaving, and become agitated. They remain agitated the entire time you're gone. If theyre relatively recently rescued dogs, it makes sense, especially with your somewhat irregular schedule, as you said.

Situations like these can be hard. My first recommendation would have been to desensitize them to your leaving (by going for the door often, even if youre not actually leaving) - but as you said, that doesn't seem to be working. I will still advise to keep that up, the more you do it the better they should get with it, even if it takes a long time! Try a gradual approach - start with just walking to the room where the front door is, and praise them for being quiet about it. Repeat that for a while, then move on to taking a few steps toward the front door, again praising if they respond well. Move closer and closer until its reaching for the knob, turning the knob, opening the door, and walking out. Keep a steady rate of praises up for when they behave themselves.

You can even extend that training out to involve being outside and working to get them to stop barking. It might work to stand in front of the door until they quiet down, then go back inside. Move to windows and do the same. Again, gradually work until you can leave the yard with them hopefully quietening down.

What happens when you reprimand them for snarling as you go to a door? Try training them to "be quiet". Similarly, crate training dogs can work wonders for these kinds of behaviour problems. When they start snarling, ask them to go to their crates and see if they settle.

What do you normally do with them when you leave? Do they get free reign of the house, or are they put in the backyard? Crate training could help to decrease their barking while home alone too. The idea behind crate training is to provide a safe place for the dog that they consider "their spot", so that they are comfortable there. Its not used as a punishment, but it is useful to tell them to go there when they get worked up. If you dont like crates you can use the same theory, just with a doggie bed. Try putting your clothes or a blanket you use in their spots so they smell like you. Scent is a real help to anxious dogs. If you do use crates, try putting toys in them too for entertainment (and since theyll be seperated, they wont fight over them!)

I hope this makes sense and is helpful. I think youre doing a wonderful job so far of trying to make them calm down. You might look into DAP (dog appeasing pheromone) plug ins for your home, or the spray bottles, to help calm them down in a natural, safe way. Your vet should have advice on DAP and potential anti-anxiety meds if youre at all interested in looking into that.

It might just take time for them to settle into the new house and routine of being in your lives (and not going back to the shelter!) I do hope you see progress soon, please keep us updated!!
Posted by Robin-Simpson
Mar 15, 2011
Thanks very much - that's incredibly helpful and encouraging. We'll try your suggestions and will let you know how we get on.

Many thanks,